Don’t Quote Me: An Open Letter to Ilene Chaiken


“I never write with an audience in mind. I write hoping an audience will come to the show, but I don’t write to please a particular audience or to try and capture a particular audience. I write to tell my stories as best I can.”

–Ilene Chaiken, in a 2005 interview with Screentalk

Dear Ilene,

I’ve resisted writing this letter for over two years and, to be completely honest, I’m not entirely comfortable writing it now. As a writer, I can appreciate how difficult your job is. I know you’ll never please everyone, and I don’t want to appear hypercritical, but there’s a voice in my head urging me to talk to you about where you’ve taken The L Word, and that voice sounds an awful lot like Max’s — you know, irritating — so I can’t ignore it any longer.

I’m not angry; I’m concerned, and like many who watch your show, I’m disappointed in the last two seasons. Did you fall and hurt your head?

I apologize for being so direct, but I ask only because I care. You’ve made some bad choices, Ilene — Jenny’s confusing carnival past and clichéd writer’s angst; Kit and Angus’s ridiculous love affair; Helena’s sudden split personality; Tina’s manhunt; Max’s, well, everything; and, of course, Dana’s death, to name a few — and I’d like to help you correct those mistakes. Together I think we can clean up the mess you’ve made and get back to portraying lesbian relationships and experiences that are unique and universally valid at the same time.

I’ve got it all figured out, Ilene. The first thing we have to do is put Jenny on a very large Ferris wheel with rusty bolts.

I know, I know. Jenny is loosely based on you, and it’ll probably be hard for you to take my advice on this one, but hear me out. It’s not about you, Ilene; it’s about the viewers and about the art.

I enjoy a well-crafted drama, I really do, but drama for me — and, I’m guessing, for most other people — needs to be clearly distinguished from confusion and tedium. You’ve got to stop putting the script in a blender. Also, it’s time to realize that, as Mia Kirshner proves in every episode, it takes more than just a great actress to make a character believable.

Not only are you wasting Kirshner’s talent on Jenny, but you’re also mocking it by every scene she shares with Daniela Sea. Repeat after me, Ilene: Daniela. Sea. Can’t. Act. And no amount of roving facial hair will change that.

Look, I don’t want much, but what I want, I think most other viewers want, too.

I want to laugh more and groan a lot less this season. I want the dialogue to fit the stories, and I want the stories to be convincing. I want to see straight male characters that aren’t complete idiots or voyeurs, gay male characters who weren’t pulled from a timeworn queer mold, and African-American characters who are interested in something other than music. I want Betty to go away — forever. I want more and better sex scenes. I want someone to fall in love and stay in love. And — yes, I know this is asking a lot — I want the actual episodes of The L Word to be just as clever and entertaining as Scribe Grrrl’s recaps.

But what I want most of all is a return to what made The L Word great in the first place.

I’d never suggest going backwards in real life or even in real love, but, as you well know, Ilene, in fiction anything is possible. Taking The L Word from lesbi-loony back to lesbi-licious will be easy if we transition by playing off the cockamamie story lines you’ve already invented. Sure, I’m aware that you’ve already cast the new season and have a few episodes in the can, but a little last minute rewriting, reshooting, and one or two instances of “you’re fired!” will get you right back where you started!

So think about this: As Jenny writhes in agony on the Ferris wheel, recalling the mysterious horrors of her past, she forces the corroded bolts of her bucket seat to rip from the frame, and she falls, screaming, to the ground.

Tragic? Not really, because — get this — she lands on Max, who is at the carnival helping another, less annoying transgender character fix his laptop.

It’s genius in its simplicity, and the dialogue would be a cinch, too! All Jenny would have to say is, “I hate my book, I hate my life, I hate the fucking carnival, I hate … AAAAAAHHH!”

And Max could drone, “My quantum photon chip is gonna make your computer as good as ne—” just before he’s crushed.

But the best part, Ilene, is that Jenny survives. Thanks to Max and the mainframe he has strapped to his strap-on, she suffers only from amnesia. With no recollection of her tormented past, she begins life anew as a better writer — one with confidence and a sense of humor. From there, the episode practically writes itself!

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